Wednesday, 28 October 2015


This word is being bandied about a lot lately. I have heard men saying they 'believe in chivalry', suggesting that this is a desirable quality.

What is chivalry?

The word ‘chivalry’ actually comes from ‘chevalier’, meaning horsemanship (not a promising start).

Chivalry is a Medieval code of conduct associated with knighthood, which included things like honour, love of your country and loyalty. It’s about men fighting other men (it’s not getting any better).

Chivalry also developed into the idea of ‘courtly love’ - the idea that a knight should serve a lady, and after her serve all ladies and be respectful to women.

These codes come from a time when it was never considered that women could have the same abilities as men, that they could make their own decisions or claim equality. It was inconceivable. In that world, where women didn't have opportunities and couldn't earn their own living, chivalry was a way of protecting a vulnerable section of society.

Chivalry is condescending

Chivalry casts women as fragile, delicate creatures in need of protection and special treatment. The moment we accept this designation, we can no longer expected be treated as men's equals, because we are accepting we are their inferiors and we need them to protect us.

I’m all for honour in war and that sort of thing - being polite to people before you run them through with a sword, and only doing it if they’ve done something really naughty like taken your land.

But the subtext of the ‘courtly love’ side of chivalry is that women should sit about looking pretty and appreciative while men charge about wounding each other in their names (jousting), holding doors open for us, and occasionally writing bad poetry.

Women are very capable of opening doors and writing out own bad poetry. We can also engage in dangerous contact sports, should we wish.

Chivalry sets women on a pedestal

The thing about pedestals is they keep women out of trouble. You're up there, looking pretty and sitting on your perch so you're not going to be campaigning for equal pay or anything like that. In fact, why do you need equal pay when some nice chivalrous man can keep you in the manner which you've become accustomed?

The phrase 'I believe in chivalry’ translates as; ‘I’m deeply sexist – I expect men and women to conform to pre-conceived gender roles. I'll hold doors open for you and occasionally buy you dinner, but in return you should do all the cooking and clean the bathroom regularly.'

If a man wants to behave courteously towards women, then that's fine, just don't call it chivalry. Call it being nice. Or just not being an arse.

Hold doors open for us because we're human beings, and it's not nice to have doors slammed in your face. And we will hold doors open for you in return.

Leave chivalry in the past

Looking to the past for a code of how to treat women is a really bad idea. Living in the West today is about the best it’s ever been for women. There may still be improvements to be made, but it’s a sight better than it has been at any time in the past. We really shouldn't be looking backwards.

The best way to be show respect to a woman is to treat her as your equal, not a princess.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Suffragette and playing at feminism

I'm very excited about seeing the film Suffragette. I'm less excited about the views of on of its stars.

For some reason, very little about the suffragettes has ever made it onto film.

The only well-known suffragette on screen until now, as has been widely reported recently, was Mrs Banks, who if she hadn't had such an efficient nanny in Mary Poppins would probably have been guilty of child neglect (an accusation that was regularly levelled at the suffragettes).

By Ch. Chusseau-Flaviens [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Had there been a little more cinematic attention paid to some of the incredible stories of these women who campaigned and suffered so that their daughters could be allowed a say in law making in this country, then maybe more women today would understand the importance and the sacrifices made for their right to vote, and take advantage of it.

Playing at feminism

Sadly, the woman playing Emmeline Pankhurst onscreen has revealed that she really was just playing at feminism.

Time Out magazine asked Meryl Streep if she was a feminist. She replied: "I am a humanist, I am for nice easy balance."

Streep San Sebastian 2008 by Andreas Tai.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

"Nice, easy balance"

That's the problem with us feminists (and with the suffragettes). We're all so damn uptight.

What exactly does Streep think feminism is? It's equality between men and women. Or "balance" if you prefer. It's just that it's not been "nice and easy" to achieve.

It took women chaining themselves to railings, force feeding, and in the case of Emily Wilding Davison, a violent death. And that was just to get the vote. Equal pay, an end to forced marriage, FGM - there are plenty more battles to be fought.

Humanism is lovely. It's a philosophy that focuses on reason and respect for other human beings. It doesn't act as a barrier to feminism. You don't have to be one or the other, you can easily be both.

I hate this fear of feminism, this distancing that women do, like feminism has a bad name.

If a high profile, talented woman like Meryl Streep, who has just made a lot of money from dressing up and strutting about as one of the most famous feminists, insists on distancing herself from feminism, then what hope is there for feminism to be able to continue its work of building equality between men and women?

What would Emmeline Pankhurst have made of the woman who played her, who just wants "a nice, easy balance"?

Suffragettes in the news

I'm loving the amount of coverage the suffragettes are currently getting in the media. Here is some good stuff: